Yakima Bears New to Circuit; Guess on Result Shot in Dark
(Editor's Note: This is one in a series on the prospects of the Western International Baseball League, written for The Associated Press by sports writers who follow the teams throughout the season).
By GEORGE F. REDMOND
Yakima Daily Republic
YAKIMA, April 22 — The Bears Yakima will send out in quest of the Western International League pennant late this month are so new to the circuit that any guess as to their final standing would be a random shot in the dark.
Outside of the pitching staff, the Bears will take the diamond with only two players who were members of the 1953 club and only five who were in the league at any time previously.
The two 1953 leftover Bears are Len Noren, the first baseman who batted .327, and Herman Lewis, the outfielder who hit only .283, but was among the league's runs-batted-in leaders with 106 and also well up in total bases with 253.
Mead Hard Hitter
One player with previous WIL experience is Charlie Mead. As a Calgary player in 1953, he led the circuit in home runs, 26, and runs batted in, 116, while compiling a .328 average. Others are Mike Catron, a third baseman who played with Tacoma three years ago, and Dick Briskey, the one-time star Yakima shortstop who had several trials with the San Francisco Seals.
Noren will be at first, Lewis in center or right, Mead in left and Catron possibly at third when the season opens.
Lou Stringer, the new manager who spent a half dozen years in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, probably will be at second base when the curtain is rolled up, but thereafter the lineup presents number of question marks.
Two players have been showing at shortstop during the spring training games. They are Briskey and John Wesley Walker, a rookie just out of Fresno State College.
Now a new aspirant is entering the shortstop battle. He is Pete Gomez, a Cuban who first saw service in organized baseball at Washington's Southern Assn. farm at Chattanooga in 1943. If he could hit the .310 credited to him in the Mexican Winter League in its 1953-54 season he would be hard to keep out of the position as he is an exceptionally brilliant fielder with a rifle arm.
The club has only one more infield aspirant—Chuck LaGrace, who returned to baseball this season after a year on the shelf after breaking a leg while trying out with Sacramento in the spring of 1953.
The outfield is shallow in talent. Outside of Lewis and Mead, there is, only one outfielder in camp—Ernie Sites, a veteran who is back in organized baseball after one season in Western Oregon's Lumber League. He will be in either right or center field if not beaten out by John Popovich, who batted .279 in the Arizona-West Texas League and has been promised the Bears on option from the Seattle Rainiers.
Stringer believes the Bears’ strongest point this season will be their catching. Expected to do most of it is Lonnie Summers, who as late as 1952 caught 130 games for the San Diego Padres. The Bear pilot says Summers “has no business being out of the Coast League.”
Seeking the No. 2 position are Charlie Ling and Stanley Fleishman, a pair of rookies from Massachusetts and Portland, respectively. However, they may be pushed aside by Jim Watson, a catcher-outfielder purchased from the Chicago White Sox farm chain during the winter. He is regarded as an exceptionally good hitter.
The pitching staff is a big question mark. Danny (The Lion) Rios, the one-tune pride of Mexico who won 19 games while losing 10 for the Bears last season; Ted Edmunds, who had a 9-6 record, and Dick Young, who as a rookie finished with 2-0, are the only pitchers on hand who finished the 1953 season with the Bears. Don Carter, who won 10 while losing nine in 1953, is expected to join the ciub this week after being a holdout.
Other candidates are: Jack Schaening, who had a 10-4 record in the Longhorn League in 1953, Gene Wulf, who won 20 and lost 9 in the same league; Ray Machado, who Bad 17 victories in three lower classification leagues in 1953: John Carmichael, who went 10-8 for Reading in the Eastem League; Vertis Elmore, a rookie just back from military service; Glen Hyatt, who was with Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League two years ago. and Marion Blank, former Yakima Valley Junior College ace signed last season.
Even newer than most of the players is the ownership and front office management. The owners are some 400 fans who purchased the club from Frederick Mercy Jr. during the winter and placed the presidency and general managership in the hands of Orin E. (Babe) Hollingbery.